The new NHL collective bargaining agreement was ratified by the players on Saturday and as a result the abbreviated 48 game schedule has been released. It’s a day hockey fans everywhere have been waiting for way too long, but the wait is over and we know have set games to look forward too. But while we only 720 of them to digest, ten of them are games that you need to drop everything to watch.
January 19th: Los Angeles Kings vs. Chicago Blackhawks — 3:00pm ET on NBC
The Kings will get their championship rings and hoist their first championship banner into the rafters when the puck officially drops on hockey’s opening night. The Chicago Blackhawks are two years removed from winning their first Stanley Cup in over 45 years but they’ve been one-and-done in those two years since. Hockey interest in L.A. took off when Wayne Gretzky came to the team in the late 80s and with the struggles of the Lakers and the lack of an NFL franchise for another year, hockey might experience another boom in Hollywood.
January 19th: Nashville Predators vs. Columbus Blue Jackets — 3:00pm ET
Shea Weber was one of the hottest free agent commodities this past offseason, as he was heavily courted and eventually heavily paid by the Predators. It’s massive, $100 million deals that were partly blamed for the lockout we just endured, and Weber was offered more than $100 million by both the Philadelphia Flyers and the Predators. In fact, Weber signed an obtuse $110 million offer sheet from the Flyers, which forced Nashville to either pay up or let him walk. Nashville paid up big and how fans react to his big deal will be something to watch very closely when the puck drops in Nashville.
January 19th: Philadelphia Flyers vs. Pittsburgh Penguins — 3pm ET on NBC
Last year when these two teams met in the playoffs, it accounted for 56 goals and over 300 penalty minutes and a few suspensions in just six games. So you can bet that this won’t be a friendly game of backyard hockey when they meet on opening night. In six games both the Penguins and the Flyers managed to draw immense attention from the league office regarding the physicality of the series and beyond that, these two teams already didn’t like each other. All of that animosity and pent-up rage comes to a head on opening night but if these two teams did that much damage in six games in the playoffs, you’d better tune in the other three times they meet this year to see what (and who) goes down.
In Game 6 of last season’s Eastern Conference Finals, the New York Rangers went into New Jersey and saw their season ended by the Devils. New York returns to the very building in which their Stanley Cup dreams were dashed, in a game that will no doubt be as physical as it will be entertaining. The Devils have a lot to prove as well, since after beating the Rangers in a thrilling Conference Finals showdown, they were embarrassed by the west coast Kings of Los Angeles. Both of these franchises have more history than one can imagine and every matchup is usually a doozy. This particular matchup is the first time they’re seeing each other since the bloody Conference Finals matchup, which will likely not disappoint.
February 9th: Hockey Day in Canada
Hockey is a niche sport in America but it’s still a religion in Canada. Hockey Day in Canada is like the Super Bowl in America, people stop what they’re doing, stock up on beer and put off all the chores until the next day. This year every single Canadian team and one American plays over the course of 24 hours. The day starts off with the Jets and Senators, followed by the Oilers and Red Wings, Maple Leafs and Canadiens with the final game being the flames and Canucks. Even if you’re not a Canadian, Hockey Day in Canada is a date you need to circle on your calendar, as you rarely get such an atmosphere than an entire country pausing to watch a little hockey.
February 17th: Hockey Day in America
It’s still a niche sport in America, but if you’re a hockey lover and you wave the American flag, Hockey Day in America is second only to the Stanley Cup Playoffs when it comes to games you drop everything to watch. The day kicks off with Penguins and the Sabers squaring off which is followed by the Kings and Blackhawks and a nightcap of the Capitals and Rangers. So basically Hockey Day in America consists of three games you can’t miss — football will be over, baseball hasn’t started yet and the NBA is still at least two weeks away from being relevant. You really have no good excuse to miss Hockey Day in America this year.
The Minnesota Wild pulled off the NHL’s version of the Miami Heat Big 3 free agent signing when they somehow roped top free agents Zach Parise and Ryan Suter and got them to ink massive deals in Minnesota. Parise’s story is much more meaningful, as his father J.P Parise played with the Minnesota North Stars and Parise was raised in Minnesota. However the Devils and Wild don’t play each other in the shortened 42-game season meaning when the Predators and Wild meet, that’s the game we’ll have to settle for as the old friend, new enemy game for the free agent duo. This will be the first time Suter returns home to Nashville since signing his massive free agent contract in Minnesota, so it will be interesting to see how he’s received.
March 26th: Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Montreal Canadiens — 7pm (Regional Only)
In 2009, the Pittsburgh Penguins fired head coach Michel Therrien after he had spent years developing Sidney Crosby, Evengi Malkin and the rest of the Penguins into the champions they would become. But at the time, Therrien was replaced by AHL head coach Dan Bylsma, who is largely credited with leading the Penguins out of the gutter and to a Stanley Cup victory. Therrien was hired in Montreal back in June of 2012, where he continues to lick his wounds from Pittsburgh. When the Pens and the Canadiens meet in March it will be the first time since being fired in 2009 that Therrien is returning to the place he helped put on the map.
April 20th: Chicago Blackhawks vs. Phoenix Coyotes – 7:30pm ET
Although they meet for the first time in February, when the Coyotes travel to Chicago in April, that’s the game everyone’s going to be glued to. The normal storyline in this matchup would be that the Coyotes are meeting the Blackhawks for the first time in Chicago since they bounced the ‘Hawks in a very entertaining first round series last year. But while that’s no doubt in the back of everyone’s mind, what’s in the forefront is Raffi Torres’ brutal hit on Marian Hossa which drew an eventual 21 game suspension (reduced from 25 games) for Torres and further fueled the debate over the violence of last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs. Hossa was laid out and knocked unconscious in front of a Chicago friendly crowd inside the United Center, but while Blackhawks fans were shocked into silence when it happened, you better believe they won’t hold their tongues when Torres returns to the scene of the crime in April.
April 27th: Phoenix at Anaheim, Philadelphia at Ottawa, Detroit at Dallas
Here’s another lump of games that serve as must watch events. Not only is it the final game of the season, which means playoff dreams could be on the line, but it could be the final time we see some legends take the ice for the final time. In Anaheim, Teemu Selanne is likely taking the ice for the final time in his 21 year NHL career. 13 of Selänne’s seasons were spent with the Ducks, so it’s fitting he’ll be taking the ice for them in his career finale. Over in Ottawa, Daniel Alfredsson could be playing in his final game with the Senators, a career that has lasted 16 season — all of which have been spent in Ottawa. Finally, in Dallas, Jaromír Jágr might be hitting the ice for the final time in his 19 year career. All three of these players have played for European clubs during their careers which aren’t included in their years of service listed. Combined between the three of them, there will be 15 All-Star appearances, three Stanley Cup winners and a Hart Trophy recipient, not to mention 56 years of hockey experience, potentially hitting the ice for the final time. It’s safe to say, it will be a spectacle sports fans won’t want to miss.